By Dr Eugene Brink
Depending on where grandparents live and the nature of their relationship with their kids, they are bound to play some sort of role in their grandchildren’s lives.
In this modern day and age of working moms and parents working long hours far away from home, parenting and “grandparenting” are not what they used to be. Some children spend significant lengths of time with their grandparents due to their parents’ work commitments. And because of the changing nature of kids’ lives, this could impose all manner of new tasks on older grandparents.
The New York Times reports that Madonna Harrington Meyer, a sociologist at Syracuse University and author of Grandmothers at Work, analysed data in the US for grandparents aged 51 to 70 who had jobs, most working full-time. Some 45% had provided care for grandchildren during the two years prior and she expects this proportion to increase.
This pattern partly reflects the changing nature of parenting itself. “My mom told the seven of us to go outside and play,” Harrington Meyer says. “Today’s mom says, ‘Get in the van and I’ll drive you from camp to violin lessons.’ The idea is to cultivate your child, give them every possible advantage, and it clearly spills over to the intensification of grandparenting.”
Value and tips
“In the best cases, grandparents’ unconditional love, slower pace, and careful attention nurture grandchildren’s ‘moral imagination’ ─ the ‘ability to put themselves in the shoes of others, to understand their own feelings, and to respond to the world with kindness and acceptance’, ” says Dr Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist and assistant clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Jane Isay writes that grandparents’ unconditional acceptance helps to grow children’s empathy; grandparents impart courage, as grandchildren witness living examples of lives filled with love, sacrifice, and struggle; and grandparents’ encouragement of children’s dreams builds confidence and personal agency. “Grandparents are more likely to see grandchildren for who they really are, not who they wish them to be.”
Grandparents are also the conduits of intergenerational stories and so contribute to children’s growing sense of autobiography – where they come from, who their ancestors are and the values they’re connected to.
In her book, Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today, Isay says it is not the material things that children remember when it comes to their grandparents, but the gift of their perspective and access to the world.
Grandparents can enrich their grandchildren’s lives by giving them love, time and attention. To this end, grandparents need to be good listeners, provide security and protection, show interest in their activities, inspire, and be a good role model.
Grandparents and adult kids
Isay addresses the all-important relationship between grandparents and their adult children.
She advises grandparents to observe their children’s parenting styles and support them by respecting their rules on matters such as sugar intake and screen time. If there is trouble between your child and his or her coparent, stay neutral or get out of the house. It is most important to keep your criticisms, opinions and revelations about how you did things to yourself.
However, she admits that grandparents may have needs and concerns too. Extra conversations on how much money and time grandparents are willing to expend on their grandchildren might be necessary to avoid misunderstandings.
Diana Divecha, 2 August 2018, “How to navigate the joys and challenges of grandparenting”, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_navigate_the_joys_and_challenges_of_grandparenting.
Government of South Australia Department of Education, 2019, “Grandparenting – Parent Easy Guide”, https://www.education.sa.gov.au/parenting-and-child-care/parenting/parenting-sa/parent-easy-guides/grandparenting-parent-easy-guide.
Paula Span, 23 July 2019, “When grandparents help hold it all together”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/well/family/when-grandparents-help-hold-it-all-together.html